Disclaimer

We know opinions are subject to controversy. We strongly urge anyone to further research issues they feel strongly about and to form their own ideas and opinions. This page is merely one set of views, as generally held by our Int'l. If you have strong feelings about an issue, we encourage you to step up and take action related to that issue. Only through our actions are we able to effect real change.

Labor Education

 

The purpose of this page is to expand on some of the Union positions, with supporting documentation, so the membership can get a better understanding of why the Union backs various issues and/or positions. It is simply information; to be used as each of us decides to use it. Additionally, further information can be found in your USW @ Work newsletters as well as the USW International web site.

 

The Middle Class, Unionism, And Taxation

 

Ever wonder how the middle class evolved? After World War II, as manufacturing took off in America, so began the growth of unions. With it, the growth of living-wage jobs and benefits. As our economy becomes globalized, and our living-wage jobs are outsourced, the decline of the middle class and unionism go hand in hand. A Union's goal is not to make every person wealthy but to ensure that the working class is able to provide for itself, both now and in retirement. For a good explanation of how this works, look here.

Along the same lines, how does the middle class contribute to the economic prosperity of the nation as a whole? When workers are paid fair living wages, a few things are accomplished; 1) They are able to provide for themselves and their families, 2) They have some "disposable" income that is used to buy goods, keeping the economy growing, 3) They are able to plan for retirement (double whammy - it opens jobs for younger folks and allows the retiree to continue to buy products), 4) Living wages means the working person does not pull on social welfare programs, 5) They spread the tax burden across a larger percentage of the population.

A simplistic example:

100 workers with living-wage jobs. They are able to support themselves without any social welfare programs. Total tax burden is $1000.

     $1000 tax burden / 100 workers = $10 per worker for taxes

Now, we outsource 20 of those jobs, relegating those 20 workers to sub living-wage jobs. Assuming they are able to make ends meet but are not paying into the tax system, we now have:

     $1000 tax burden / 80 workers = $12.50 per tax-paying worker for taxes

Up the ante... of those 20 displaced workers, 10 require some level of social welfare to survive. That increases the overall tax burden for the remaining 80 workers:

     $1200 tax burden / 80 workers = $15 per tax-paying worker for taxes

It's a slippery slope. Funny thing is, it's not necessary. Businesses can make profit and pay fair wages, happens all the time. When they do pay fair wages, those employees will buy additional products, further growing the economy and minimizing the overall tax burden (remember, while we all pay taxes, so do businesses). It's an "upward spiral" as opposed to the "downward spiral" we seem to be in. It's good for the country, the population, and business.

The intent here is not to argue the merits (or not) of taxation, tax rates, or social welfare programs. It simply shows that as the middle class disappears, so does the tax base. Those left shoulder an increasing burden as the demand increases and less people contribute. A better approach may be to create and grow living-wage jobs so everyone has the opportunity to support themselves and help spread the burden of taxation across the general population. The goal of Labor Unions has been to promote these jobs, not promote social programs in place of them. Currently, there are not nearly enough living-wage jobs for everyone, so the premise that people just need to get off their butts and find one of these jobs is not valid... you can't find work that is not there.

Posted November 2010

 

 

CO2 and You (Global Warming?)

 

We've all heard the stories about Global Warming. The varying beliefs - from we're headed to a melt down to it's all a bunch of horse****.

We've also seen where recent legislation is in the works to limit CO2 emissions, considered by many to be a primary contributor to global warming. With that, we see the fears of our members as the discussion leads to the potential for job losses in the very industries we represent and the jobs are trying to protect.

So, why would USW support CO2 "Cap and Trade" legislation? First off, USW is NOT supporting the loss of jobs. As a union (and within OCAW and PACE) we have supported a rational approach to protecting our environments while preserving jobs. And guess what? - It's worked. We've see Clean Air and Clean Water acts, hazardous chemical regulations, etc. all come into the workplace and we've survived. An approach that works towards the goal of protecting our environment while preserving jobs is a rational approach.

As an example of where we've failed, and the outcome, think of our Superfund Site programs. With little to no regulations, and often little understanding of long-term repercussions, many companies mismanaged their wastes. Guess what? You and I are paying for it... billions instead and the millions it should have cost. Companies responsible for the waste have simply gone out of business leaving the general taxpayers to foot the bill. A lesson was learned, but a fairly costly lesson at that.
For a specific case, look up information on the famous "Love Canal".

With global warming, we see similar instances. While we have lots of disagreements on the pace of global warming (or whether it really exists), we're seeing an overall warming of the planet (reference).

Rather than wait until it's too late, or until it does take an immediate and possibly economically harmful response, why not work to minimize the impacts in a methodical, controlled, and economically viable way? We've already limited CFCs and other warming chemicals without disastrous economic impact. We can do it, the question is: Will we?

For those of you that think humans can't possibly have an impact, a couple quick examples of how a small change can make the difference.

Take two 16 oz. glasses and fill one with water. Now, pour water from one cup to the other, back and forth, back and forth. No problem. not one drop spilled. The glasses are able to accommodate the change from empty to full and back to empty. Now, think of the water as CO2 and the glasses as natural earth cycles. The earth can handle to CO2 surges and will cycle them back around. That's been shown to have occurred. Enter man. While man has not impacted the atmosphere nearly as much as nature does itself, it's a matter of balance. As man, you add 1 oz. of water to the empty glass each time it's empty. The result... a small percentage of the total results in overflow. As we continue to add the water to the empty glass, each cycle adds more water to the floor. Eventually, we'll add enough water to drown ourselves.

Admittedly a simplistic approach, but it shows he problem with small change over a large time period.

Another simplistic example... start walking towards a cliff. You've got 9,999 steps before you reach the cliff. No harm occurs over 9,999 steps. However, you've reached the cliff edge. One more step, just one of out of the 10,000 steps and you're dead. It doesn't take a huge amount of anything to cause harm, just the little bit required to put us over the edge.

For some light reading, the following highlights the above points in a more scientific manner.


Manmade CO2 emissions are much smaller than natural emissions. Consumption of vegetation by animals & microbes accounts for about 220 gigatonnes of CO2 per year. Respiration by vegetation emits around 220 gigatonnes. The ocean releases about 332 gigatonnes. In contrast, when you combine the effect of fossil fuel burning and changes in land use, human CO2 emissions are only around 29 gigatonnes per year. However, natural CO2 emissions (from the ocean and vegetation) are balanced by natural absorptions (again by the ocean and vegetation). Land plants absorb about 450 gigatonnes of CO2 per year and the ocean absorbs about 338 gigatonnes. This keeps atmospheric CO2 levels in rough balance. Human CO2 emissions upsets the natural balance.

Figure 1: Global carbon cycle. Numbers represent flux of carbon dioxide in gigatonnes (Source: Figure 7.3, IPCC AR4).

About 40% of human CO2 emissions are being absorbed, mostly by vegetation and the oceans. The rest remains in the atmosphere. As a consequence, atmospheric CO2 is at its highest level in 15 to 20 million years (Tripati 2009). A natural change of 100ppm normally takes 5,000 to 20.000 years. The recent increase of 100ppm has taken just 120 years.

Additional confirmation that rising CO2 levels are due to human activity comes from examining the ratio of carbon isotopes (eg ? carbon atoms with differing numbers of neutrons) found in the atmosphere. Carbon 12 has 6 neutrons, carbon 13 has 7 neutrons. Plants have a lower C13/C12 ratio than in the atmosphere. If rising atmospheric CO2 comes fossil fuels, the C13/C12 should be falling. Indeed this is what is occurring (Ghosh 2003). The C13/C12 ratio correlates with the trend in global emissions.

Figure 2: Annual global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement manufacture in GtC yr?1 (black), annual averages of the 13C/12C ratio measured in atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa from 1981 to 2002 (red). ). The isotope data are expressed as δ13C(CO2) ‰ (per mil) deviation from a calibration standard. Note that this scale is inverted to improve clarity. (IPCC AR4)

 

Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change Report

RealClimate Report

World Resources Institute - GHG Emissions Chart

Posted January 2010

 

 

Health Care - I Got Mine, You Get Yours

We keep hearing how there's no problem with Health Care, everyone has access to Health Care, the Democrats plan won't work, etc. This in light of the double-digit inflation that medical coverage has seen for many years, the increasing number of people that are under- or uninsured. Sorry, but that's "denial".

People are correct, to some degree, that everyone has some access to health care... when you're dying on the street corner they can't refuse coverage. What about when it's not life or death?

Well, you don't have the right to walk into a doctor's office and be seen if you can't pay. Hence the heavy burden on the emergency rooms.

Walk into an emergency room and you've got a $1000 bill that someone has to pay, plus any other tests/medications and follow ups. If anyone thinks this is cost-effective, you should be working in the finance department at one of the refineries. This is unsustainable, and we're closing in on the end.

The argument that we can't afford basic health care is bullshit. We're paying the above costs in the form of our premiums and our taxes. Lower the costs, and the burdens will decrease. How? Allow folks access to preventative health care - you feel sick, you see a doctor, you maybe get a prescription. Lets say $500 total cost for this proactive approach that solves the problem. Currently, you wait until the problem is so bad, you end up in the emergency room. You pay $400 to see a doctor, you pay substantially more money for tests and meds (think T/A dollars vs. running maintenance dollars). And, since the disease has progressed, the follow up care is substantially more. Let's use cancer as an example. I find I have cancer at an early stage, treatment is not only easier on me, the costs are less and my chances of recovery are greater. Wait until it has spread through my body and I get a much more aggressive treatment, one that may require additional costs to manage, most likely a much longer (and therefore costly) treatment cycle, all with a reduced chance of survival.

So, how does one make the argument that everything's OK? Maybe because we currently "got ours", so let the others get theirs. Fast forward a decade and when we can no longer afford coverage, when we ain't "got ours", I'm confident those stating how everything's Ok now will be the first to blame someone for not fixing the mess when we had a chance.

Plain and simple - the system is broken and no one's really lifted a finger to fix it until now. We're digging ourselves out of a hole and it won't be cheap. As to the politics, we see the worst we have to offer - it's not about fixing the system, it's about blaming the other party, putting up roadblocks to undermine the other party, all in an attempt to regain control, not to fix the problem. And lest you think this is aimed at any one party, they're all to blame (which means we're all to blame).

<insert random statistics here>

The World Health Organization rates the US 37th in the world for health care.

The US has the most expensive healthcare system in the world. It is almost twice as expensive as every other developed nation. This is largely due to administrative costs which account for 19-25% of healthcare costs, and up to 34% at for-profit hospitals.

Other than South Africa, America is the only developed country in the world that does not provide healthcare for all of its citizens.

Yet, the US ranks 26th in infant mortality and 24th in the number of healthy years a person can expect to live - putting America’s healthcare system in the company of Cuba and Slovenia rather than Canada and Western European nations.

And, despite anecdotal claims of high dissatisfaction among those who live in countries with universal healthcare, the reality is that, with the exception of Italy, Americans are more dissatisfied with their healthcare than are the citizens of every other developed nation, including England, France, Germany, and Canada. Moreover, US doctors spend less time with patients that do doctors in other nations.

If you're interested in more data, please visit the World Health Organization here.

<insert quote shamelessly borrowed from the above report here>

"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane"
Martin Luther King, Jr.   

Posted November 20

 

 

Wal-Mart Isn't That Bad

 

Think again. While Wal-Mart is not the only company that exploits its workers for profits, it is the largest in the world, thereby setting the standard for others to follow.

Each and every time you buy from Wal-Mart, you continue to support not only the cycle of poverty and the working poor, you undermine your own ability to provide for your family as well as limit your children's future.

Consider these facts:

By Wal-Mart's own admission, over half of their own employees do not have health care. Who do you think pays for it then? If you said you and I, you've hit the nail on the head. We watch our premiums continue to rise, not necessarily directly tied to the cost of the procedures and medicines themselves, but the inflated costs we are charged to recoup the losses suffered by the uninsured.
Saving a penny costs you a dollar!

In 2008, the average full time "associate" earned $10.84/hr. and an annual income of $19,165. That's $2000 below the Federal Poverty Line for a family of four.

Last year, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott earned $29.7 million in total compensation.

As of 2008, a Wal-Mart Associate earns 16% less than the average retail wage.

All the while Wal-Mart earned $12.73 billion in profits 2008.

If you're interested in learning more about how Wal-Mart costs you money, look here.

Update

The question was raised as to how Wal-Mart exploits workers (it's not just workers they exploit, it's communities). So, let's try to answer this.

How does Wal-Mart feed on that? They extort communities, in the way of tax breaks and other considerations (yes, other businesses do this as well) to build in a community. As the information above states, they pay and average of 16% less than prevailing wages at other retail outlets. That puts pressure on all other retailers to lower wages to remain competitive.

You might think about how taxes work. As these workers see their wages decline, they pay less taxes. If they're not paying them, and Wal-Mart isn't paying them, who is (yea, that would be us, the middle class).

Likewise, as Wal-Mart employees are relegated to the working poor, they can not afford the things we enjoy - medical insurance, retirement benefits, etc. (remember, the lowest option medical plan Wal-Mart offers is 20% of an employees wages, wages that are already below the Federal poverty limit. Think of it this way... just because you and I have access to a Porsche any time we choose, doesn't mean we can afford one. Access and affordability are sometimes exclusive of each other).

So, Wal-Mart employees, over 50% of whom do not have medical coverage (by Wal-Marts own admission), rely on public services more so than others. Still wondering who's paying for this? Still the middle class.

Let's talk overall employment. You'll see an extensive article here that talks about the loss of jobs as Wal-Mart moves in. For every two substandard jobs Wal-Mart creates, three are lost from other retailers. One day you work at Brand X, the next you have no choice but to work at Wal-Mart for 16% less wages and unaffordable health care. That's exploitation.

To prove the point, look at Costco. Costco gets grief nearly every quarter from Wall Street about how the "overpay" their employees, how their employee benefits are overly generous. Funny thing, Costco can take care of the very people who make Costco successful and still generate substantial profit. Imagine that... doing the right thing can still be profitable.

Wal-Mart chooses to run their business this way... to generate profits on the back of their employees. They don't have to, they choose to.

Funny thing, one report from the link above states that Wal-Mart could afford to give every employee a $1/hr. raise if they increased their prices by one-half a penny per dollar. Take this a little further, and raising the price of a pair of $2 socks to $2.05 would allow a $5/hr. wage increase for each employee. While this won't make anyone a millionaire, it would allow them the opportunity to afford health care and maybe retirement savings, sharing the tax burden with us. And, Wal-Mart wouldn't have to spend a cent.

So, once again, it should be clear. You walk into Wal-Mart to "save a buck" and it WILL cost you substantially more than you save. If you choose to shop at Wal-Mart, then as far as I'm concerned, you've waived your right to bitch about your wages, your health care costs, your retirement. You have only your selfishness to blame.

BTW - if you're interested in how Wal-Mart takes care of their offshore workers, please take a quick look here.

Posted November 2009

 

 

Politics and Our Union

 

There's always plenty of opinions and personal beliefs where politics is concerned. The following is intended to address some of the more common questions.

Unions = Democrats

Not true! Unions support labor issues. Plain and simple. Our goal is to help each other understand the issues that affect our jobs and our families.

While it is true that Democrats have a history of supporting labor issues, there have been Republicans that have supported labor issues and therefore have been supported by us (just ask Tom Lind about Slade Gorton).

Unions Tell Us How To Vote

Wrong. Unions offer advice on voting that protects your job and rights. We, as a union, understand labor issues are but one piece of the puzzle. Issues such as gun control, gay rights, pro choice/pro life, etc. are every bit as important to each of us in different ways. We, as a union, have no right to promote a position on non-labor issues. With that being said, there are numerous issues that directly affect labor. To see the issues as presented via our USW Int'l web site, click here.

I Have No Say In Who The Union Endorses

In reality, candidates are generally chosen at conventions. We send our elected delegates to these conventions to vote on our behalf. Therefore, who we vote into office and who we direct them to endorse is how we maintain our voice in the process. As with any democracy, we aren't always the majority.

Additionally, we can, and often do, support local candidates. This is done at our monthly union meetings. As a rule, these monthly meetings are where most of the direction is provided to your elected representatives. Motions made and carried by the majority are then acted upon. If you'd like more say, simply show up at the monthly meetings and voice your ideas/concerns.

My Union Dues Support Candidates I May Oppose

Absolutely not! No union dues are used for political contributions. Our political funds are purely voluntary via the COPE check off.

If you are interested in supporting labor politics, you can contribute via your COPE checkoff or make a donation directly to the candidate of your choice.

For more information on USW political action, go here.

How Do The Politicians We Endorse Support Us?

Politicians pass legislation that affects everything from overtime rules, unemployment benefits, Health and Safety rules, hours of work, right to bargain, employee protection when voicing safety concerns, Family Medical Leave, and rules concerning strike conduct.

In 1995 during the WPSI Lockout at the Texaco refinery, as Texaco continued to make numerous accusations against the picketers, we were supported by the Skagit County Sheriff, Ed Goodman.

We also had a show of support from our legislative representative, Harriet Spanel, who took a turn on the picket line outside the refinery.

Additionally, we were supported by many other unions, most of our working membership, and our own International Union (OCAW).

In the end, our member's jobs were returned to us, all back wages and medical costs were paid (plus interest), and wages were returned to the previous contract scales.

For a more detailed account into the 1995 Lockout, look here. 

 

These are but some of the issues the Union looks at when deciding to support candidates for office. Each time you cast your vote, consider how that vote affects your ability to maintain your living wage job, and more importantly, how that vote will enable your children, and their children, to find a job that allows them to be more than the "working poor".

Hopefully you understand that our union (that's you, me, and every member), works hard to assure that each individual retains their right of choice.

When you look at the world today, what do you see?

A tremendous loss of living wage jobs as our corporations exploit workers in
other countries

A dramatic increase in "service sector" jobs. Low paying, often with no benefits.
This results in people working simply to survive. How is that progress?

A consolidation of wealth. As living wage jobs disappear, so does the middle
class. Wealth is consolidated within the very wealthy. Eventually, there's a
collapse of our market economy when there's no one left to buy our goods
and services.

So, get involved. Be active. Bring your ideas to others. USW has a long and proud history of political action. Elections are your chance to set a new direction for this country where labor is concerned.

Think about the world we leave to our kids. We may very well be the first generation that leaves our kids with less opportunity and quality of life than we inherited from our previous generations.

Posted November 2009